UN official sounds alarm on increasingly global nature of organized crime

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, UNODC

17 May 2010 – As organized crime increasingly transcends national borders, the best way to combat these networks is to strike at the heart of their markets, not just intercept criminal groups, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today.

Diffuse criminal networks with a global reach have replaced national criminal groups, and the modern crime business model values control over trafficking routes more than control over a single commodity, Antonio Maria Costa said at the start of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which opened its 19th session today in Vienna.

“Arrest a few traffickers and others will take their places as long as there is money to be made by exploiting illicit flows,” he stressed.

Transnational organized crime is increasingly being driven by market forces, and unlike terrorists or insurgents, these criminals do not have a political agenda, he added.

“They are out to make money: they seek to buy low and sell high – maximizing returns and minimizing risk,” Mr. Costa pointed out.

As a result, “countermeasures must disrupt those markets, and not just intercept the criminal groups that exploit them,” he said.

The UNODC Executive Director called for a two-pronged approach to combat organized crime.

First, he said, it is vital that security is bolstered, since traffickers tend to target areas wracked by instability and underdevelopment.

“Peacebuilding and peacekeeping make fragile regions less prone to the conflict that affects crime,” Mr. Costa said. “In turn, fighting crime neutralizes spoilers who profit from instability.”

What is also vital to fighting global criminal networks, he said, is increasing the risks of running criminal operations. The past two decades have shown that governance has failed to keep pace with globalization, resulting in the abuse of the economic and financial systems.

“A laissez-faire system cannot work if the invisible hand of the market is manipulated by the bloody hand of organized crime,” the UNODC chief stressed, calling for enhanced vigilance.

The latest session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will focus on issues ranging from the protection of countries’ cultural heritage from trafficking, as well as on the outcome of a UN gathering last month in Salvador, Brazil, that ended with a call for Member States to adapt their criminal justice systems to changing times, including through the use of new technologies.

“Make no mistake: this review is not housekeeping,” Mr. Costa said today. “It is about building security and development through the rule of law, to ensure your people freedom from fear and freedom from want, in the respect of human rights.”

The five-day conference is slated to wrap up on Friday.


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